Facts and updates about Holland's Universities

Facts and updates about Holland's Universities

Posted on 09 Jun 2014 Views ( 900 )

A growing number of small US-style liberal arts colleges are being set up on campuses in the Netherlands.

Pioneered by Utrecht University, these colleges break the Dutch model by selecting ultra-motivated students who are keen to have a broad cross-disciplinary undergraduate experience.

Taught solely in English, the BA courses allow students to study physics with philosophy, cognitive science with languages or biology with Classics.

While some universities Endeavour to link their courses to the workplace in an attempt to guarantee "employability", these university colleges and their students eschew such an approach.

"It is an investment in lifelong skills", explains Rob van der Vaart, dean of University College Utrecht, who oversees a group of about 700 students out of Utrecht's 30,000 student body.

With low drop-out rates, a high ratio of international students and an intimate college feel, it is an "island within the university" and the perfect place to study, he insists, with academic exploration encouraged at every level.

Graduates have no trouble progressing to master's courses, van der Vaartadds, despite the emphasis on breadth of knowledge and study skills rather than subject-specific expertise.

About 30 per cent stay in Utrecht for further study, with 30 per cent leaving for other Dutch higher education institutions and 30 per cent going abroad for their master's. Just over 10 per cent enter the workplace directly after graduation.

According to van der Vaart, “at BA level, universities do not care about specialism - they look at the total package. When it comes to critical thinking skills, our students outperform their peers."

The success of the college, set around an attractive New England-style quad, has spawned many imitators at institutions including Amsterdam, Leiden, Maastricht and Tilburg.

Dutch treat: Maastricht University vaunts its foreign-student appeal

Maastricht University hit the headlines again this summer after inviting UK students who had missed out on university places to "go Dutch" amid the clamour of clearing.

But are students really flooding abroad? A total of 579 British undergraduate candidates lodged an application with the Netherlands' most international university, with 137 of them taking up a place in September. That was up from 49 who enrolled in 2010 and seven times the 19 UK students who began in 2009.

Given its undergraduate tuition fees of around £1,500, applications to Maastricht are expected to increase again in 2012 when tuition fees in England rise to a maximum of £9,000.

The university, which offers almost its entire undergraduate courses in English, is happy to have more UK students, according to Martin Paul, president of Maastricht.

"We need a certain amount of native speakers - these English students are needed to improve quality," he says.

Although he denies actively targeting the UK market, he confirms that the university applied to join the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service last year, but was rejected.

"We have not put up adverts, but we have been getting publicity," says Paul.

"Maastricht is attractive because it is about learning in small groups in an international classroom.

"Anyway, we have a lot more students from Germany - about 3,000 - and 1,000 students from Belgium. We also have Spanish and French students."

Last year, 43 per cent of the university's students came from outside the Netherlands.

The Netherlands has an unusual undergraduate admissions system.

Introduced in the 1970s as a "fair way" of picking students, applicants to oversubscribed courses such as medicine and dentistry are required to enter a lottery for a place.

Under reforms made in 2000, applicants with the very highest marks gain automatic admission to courses, but the rest are divided into four bands according to their secondary school marks.

Their chances of gaining a place decrease depending on their grades. For instance, if 80 per cent of category B students receive a place, 53 per cent of applicants in category C will be assigned a place, and 27 per cent of category E students will be admitted.

That means a "lottery-winning" student with the equivalent of three Es at A level could be sitting next to a straight-A student on a medical course, while a better-qualified candidate is forced to choose a less popular course.

"It was a typical Dutch solution for a situation with a limited number of places and high demand. In 2013, Utrecht will adopt an alternative system where the quality and competence of the students count, and not the outcome of a lottery."

But others like the system, which saw 37,500 candidates apply in 2010 and 12,500 miss out on their first choice.

"If you select only on grades, you are missing out on creative people who think outside the box," insists Frank Miedema, dean of Utrecht's faculty of medicine.

"Our students perform, so I have no complaints about them.

"A lottery as such is not a bad way to select students. It may also bring some good. If I'm assessing two individuals from Groningen with identical grades, they will both have rehearsed their motivation speeches with their parents. They will say the same things. Is that really a more honest way?"

Dutch universities of applied sciences are far bigger than research Universities in terms of both number of institutions and students. The number of teaching staff who hold masters or PhD qualifications is high.

The Dutch government tends to believe the strong performance of Dutch higher education in Europe and globally implies that there is no strong need to invest more in promoting Dutch higher education abroad.

Now the Dutch started focused on own country as well as on international developments.

The Ministry of Education has recently started to prepare a new vision document on the internationalization of Dutch higher education.

The Dutch knowledge has now become a shared focus for all stakeholders in the sector: the private sector, universities of applied sciences, research universities, regional and local governments, and different ministries in the national government.

The challenges that Dutch higher education is facing in maintaining and expanding its European and international position are not unique. Other countries are facing similar dangers and the competition is broader and stronger than ever before. A shared vision and strategy is required in order to keep growing.

Regional cooperation between universities and universities of applied sciences on the one hand and industry on the other should generate more internships and part-time jobs for international students.

Now depends upon the competition, Netherlands funding councils are allocating public research cash for projects and grant applications are reviewed and assessed by external peers, which is similar to the UK research excellence framework-SEP (Standard Evaluation Protocol). Depends upon the quantity of PhDs done at a University and historical factors, lump sums are also awarded.

SEP runs on a rolling six-year cycle and takes Research policy and management and Social and Scientific "impact" into the account. However, the results of the SEP are not used by the government to allocate cash.

In this case, Universities are having the power of autonomy;

Bert van der Zwaan, rector magnificus at Utrecht University, argues that this is beneficial as institutions are free to spend their income according to their own priorities.

"There is a broad line of separation between government and institutions. There is no need to fight in every step - it is based on quality."

Although 12 of the nation’s 13 universities are in the top 200 World University Rankings, none was in the top 50 as Utrecht ranked the top Dutch institution with 68th position.

Hence in recent years, Government has been asked the universities to specialize in particular areas. The government is hopeful that this decision of combing research helps the Universities to sharpen themselves and focus on their research strengths. Therefore they can become top players on the world stage.

University of Amsterdam encompasses of diverse research priorities including cultural heritage, brain science, astro-particle physics, behavioral economics, and international law.

Now, Utrecht University, one of Holland’s largest University with a student body of about 30,000 along with some other Universities has aspired to get into the Country’s top position as far as higher education is concerned has and started working that way seriously.

According to the Utrecht's academic teaching hospital, the Utrecht Life Sciences project requires world-leading researchers in health studies. The University believes that this move will create Europe's number-one cancer research centre. Simultaneously, the University is focusing on Regenerative medicine to attract pharmaceutical who’s who Genmab and GlaxoSmithKline to collaborate in on-campus initiatives.

"We are putting a lot of efforts to rope in the top of the top people” explains Frank Miedema, dean of the faculty of medicine and vice-chairman of University Medical Center Utrecht. "It is a very un-Dutch thing to do. We are seen as very pushy, as cowboys. It goes against our [national] character.

"But if we want to put science in Holland on the map, you have to go this way.

Netherlands is spending about 1.5 per cent on tertiary education.

Many rectors wish that the consistent improvements will boost the Dutch institutions’ confidence levels and help them to get placed in the top 50 and even in even top 20 of the world's leading research institutions.

Founded in 1575 with the motto "Bastion of Freedom", the Netherlands' oldest university boasts an enviable reputation in health sciences, astrophysics and law.

In 1920s and 30s Leiden was at its peak with visiting professors like Paul Ehrenfest, Enrico Fermi, and the all time great Albert Einstein who rubbed shoulders with home-grown Nobel laureates Heike KamerlinghOnnes, Pieter Zeeman, and Hendrik Lorentz.

Van der Heijden argues that Leiden's future would be best served by an alliance with the nearby institutions at Delft and the Erasmus University Rotterdam.

Aligning Leiden's scientific prowess with Delft's technological expertise and Erasmus' business nous would create a "super-university" capable of competing with the world elite, he believes.

New research and cross-disciplinary courses would help to attract top research talent and students. Say for example, Leiden's Asian studies department, which teaches languages, history and culture, could link up with the growing business school in Rotterdam.

In addition, a combined student body of 50,000 would provide scope for economies of scale through shared services without ever becoming too large.

Van der Heijden admits that the plan is "not a very Dutch thing to do".

"We are looking at a model similar to the University of California, where we see a lot of subsidiaries. The government will not invest more money in the next five or six years. Against that background, it may be smarter to cooperate, rather than compete against each other.

"Within the university, there is some skepticism, but many people see the opportunities," van der Heijden says.

At the modern Campus University of Erasmus, named after the Rotterdam-born scholar, there is similar passion for the idea of joining forces with others to create a world-leading university brand.

"This is a world where the winner takes all," explains Pauline van der Meer Mohr, a former Shell and ABN Amro executive who is now president of Erasmus University Rotterdam.

"You have to be strong to attract top research talent and the best students. The more resources you are able to attract, the more you become a magnet for the top people. Dutch society is incredibly egalitarian and we cherish that. But given the strong infrastructure, there is now a case to create three or four top universities over the next 10 to 15 years.

"You would have us [Delft-Erasmus-Leiden] and one at Amsterdam [Amsterdam linked with the newer VU University Amsterdam]. Utrecht is resisting, but it has already set up links with Eindhoven. There could also be a cluster on the north-east flank of the country, including Groningen and Twente."

Universities located below the country's southern rivers - TUE, Tilburg University and Radboud University Nijmegen - have also been suggested as natural partners.

Such clusters would lessen the fierce competition for funds from the Dutch government, in which universities compete for money allocated on the basis of market share of students, adds van der Meer Mohr.

"It's a very frustrating zero-sum game that no universities like, but we have not been able to change it."

And the new super-institutions could also include the universities of applied sciences (roughly similar to the UK's pre-1992 polytechnics) that teach two-thirds of the Netherlands' 600,000 students, thereby creating better links between the two levels of the country's binary system.

"There would be a complete spectrum of courses, from two-year applied science courses to PhD schools. We are becoming more boundaries-less. With a new generation of managers in universities, I think we can bridge some of the gaps between the systems," argues van der Meer Mohr.

"We see big chances ahead," Leiden's van der Heijden agrees.